Penance

 

(M) – The rags cut off at her knees, ankles black like she had been dragged through the woods for miles, red splotches covering her face, and her father? Skinny…worn, sickly in the way exhaustions makes all weakness more severe, his hands almost translucent as he gripped his daughters shoulders, tight. His eyes bloodshot, standing and sitting, and walking around, never in one place for too long. Talking nonsense for minutes at a time then stopping abruptly and staring up to the ceiling and resting there, mouthing back the things he had just said. It was like his mind couldn’t keep track and he had to keep rewinding to a place that was more familiar, but every restart the story expanded, unrelated things being brought together. We had to let him get it all out

(D) – What could we say… The man was so weak, consumed by his choices and resigned to them. There were no words that could right his course. There was no fight left in him. And with Emily sitting right there, as close to our sister in face as a child could be, taking her tiny weathered hands and thumbing away at the sides of her dress, over and over while the three adults stood above and tried to make sense of all of this.

And the way he left that child.. With an inaudible goodbye, hugging her from behind, drooping over her, his back folding in on itself as every bone shone through that sun dyed shirt. Smelling of rain and grass, with remnants of the earth still clinging to his damp clothing. And the child saying nothing, not looking, not feeling, her face frozen in place as the father collected his last memories of her. And for the rest of the day the child would not eat, would not speak, barely moved until she felt her way towards and bed room and fell into the corner, wrapping herself in her arms.

(M) – We stayed up that entire night, pacing around the house, searching every place in our hearts for something to give this child when she woke up in the morning. For some answer to a question she may not know she had but that would one day haunt her, ‘why is some part of me missing, why don’t have all the pieces I’m supposed to have.’

(D) – And how we put off that letter, for hours it rested on the kitchen table. It’s very necessity terrifying. Why couldn’t Margaret come, we asked ourselves over and over, what had that man meant when he said she wasn’t in a position to travel, that she refused to place a call because of the vibrations, that she couldn’t leave the house because it would only make things worse. How many times we lifted it and laid it down, surprised at its weight, guessing at how many pages it would be, at what our sister would write to us after all these years.

(M) – We didn’t say it, we couldn’t, but we knew what was waiting for us in that letter, it was our sentence. The price we would have to pay for the things we failed to do for our sister, for what our parents did to her. For standing idle as the misery of those two pushed her to that place.

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